A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

(Ἀγάθαρχος), a Athenian artist, said by Vitruvius (Praef. ad lib. vii.) to have invented scene-painting, and to have painted a scene (scenam fecit) for a tragedy which Aeschylus exhibited. As this appears to contradict Aristotle's assertion (Poet. 4.16), that scene-painting was introduced by Sophocles, some scholars understand Vitruvius to mean merely, that Agatharchus constructed a stage. (Compare Hor. Ep ad. Pis. 279 : et modicis instraxit pulpita tignis.) But the context shews clearly that perspective painting must be meant, for Vitruvius goes on to say, that Democritus and Anaxagoras, carrying out the principles laid down in the treatise of Agatharchus, wrote on the same subject, shewing how, in drawing, the lines ought to be made to correspond, according to a natural proportion, to the figure which would be traced out on an imaginary intervening plane by a pencil of rays proceeding from the eye, as a fixed point of sight, to the several points of the object viewed.

It was probably not till towards the end of Aeschylus's career that scene-painting was introduced, and not till the time of Sophocles that it was generally made use of; which may account for what Aristotle says.

There was another Greek painter of the name of Agatharchus, who was a native of the island of Samos, and the son of Eudemus. He was a contemporary of Alcibiades and Zeuxis. We have no definite accounts respecting his performances, but he does not appear to have been an artist of much merit : he prided himself chiefly on the ease and rapidity with which he finished his works. (Plut. Per. 13.) Plutarch (Plut. Alc. 16) and Andocides at greater length (in Alcib. p. 31. 15) tell an anecdote of Alcibiades having inveigled Agatharchus to his house and kept him there for more than three months in striet durance, compelling him to adorn it with his pencil. The speech of Andocides above referred to seems to have been delivered after the destruction of Melos (B. C. 416) and before the expedition to Sicily (B. C. 415); so that from the above data the age of Agatharchus may be accurately fixed. Some scholars (as Bentley, Böttiger, and Meyer) have supposed him to be the same as

the contemporary of Aeschylus, who, however, must have preceded him by a good half century. Müller, Arch. d. Kunst, p. 88.)